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Chapter 45 - Memory Returns

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« on: January 04, 2023, 11:56:30 am »

MY NEXT impression was of acute pain in both ankles. My head was swimming as after a wild night, and my eyelids seemed to be weighted with lead. I raised them, however, by what I felt to be a definite muscular effort. And, curious circumstances—very curious indeed, as I came to realize later—my brain immediately began to function from the last waking moment I have recorded; namely, from the moment when, seated in the Museum Room, I began to feel very drowsy.

My first thought now was that I had fallen asleep on the settee in some unnatural position, which might account for the pain in my ankles. I looked about me. . . .

I was certainly lying on a divan, as I had supposed; but my ankles were fastened together by a single strand of that dull, yellowish-gray material resembling catgut, and no thicker than a violin string, which had played a part in the death of poor Dr. Van Berg in Ispahan!

My fragile bonds were fastened so tightly as to be painful, and I struggled to my feet. Wedging one foot firmly against the floor, I kicked forward with the other, supposing that the slender link would snap. The result was that I kicked myself backwards!

I fell among the cushions of the divan, aware that I had badly strained a tendon. Helpless, bewildered, struggling with some memory ever growing, I lay where I had fallen, looking about me. And this was what I saw:

A long, low salon—that, I thought, of an old Egyptian house; parts of the walls were tiled, and a large mushrabiyeh window formed a recess at one end. There were some rugs upon the floor, and the room was lighted by a number of lamps having shades of a Chinese pattern which swung from the wooden ceiling. The furniture, scanty, was of mixed Arab and Chinese character. There were deep bookcases laden with volumes in most unfamiliar bindings as well as a number of glass cabinets containing most singular objects.

In one was something which at first I took to be a human head, that of a woman. But, focusing my gaze upon it, I realized that it was an unusually perfect mummy head. In another were some small green snakes, alive. I saw a human skeleton; and in a kind of miniature conservatory which occupied the recess formed by the mushrabiyeh window, queer-looking orchids, livid and ugly, were growing.

A definite conviction claimed my mind that I had been in this room before. But—perhaps the most remarkable feature of the experience—it reached my brain in just the same way that such impressions reach us in everyday life. I thought, “This has all happened before.” The only difference was that my prophetic anticipations lasted much longer than is normally the case.

Upon a long, wooden table, resembling a monkish refectory table, lay a number of open volumes, among test tubes and other scientific paraphernalia. Standing up, I saw that the table was covered with glass.

Then, turning around, I realized that in many other cabinets hitherto invisible were rows of chemical bottles and apparatus. I was, then, in a room which was at least partly a laboratory; for in one corner I saw a working bench with electrical fittings. There were three doors to the room, of old, bleached teak. They possessed some peculiarity which puzzled me, until I recognized wherein it lay:

These doors had neither latches, handles, nor keyholes. And as I grasped this curious fact, one of them slipped noiselessly open.

And Dr. Fu Manchu came in . . .

All who have followed my attempts to record the strange and tragic events which followed upon Sir Lionel Barton’s discovery of the tomb of El Mokanna, will recognize at this point something which I was totally unable to recognize at the time:

I was living again through that hiatus in Cairo; bridging the gap which led to the loss of Ramin! That everything in the room, every word spoken by the Chinese doctor, seemed familiar, was natural enough; since I had seen those things and heard those words before.

Again that compelling glance absorbed me. The green, globular lamp upon a silver pedestal was lighted on the long table. And I watched the Chinaman, with long, flexible, bony fingers, examining the progress of some chemical experiment in which he had evidently been engaged at the time of quitting the room.

He spoke to me of this experiment and of others; of the new anæsthetic prepared from mimosa; of the fabrication of spider web—a substance stronger than any known to commerce. He discussed his daughter, Nayland Smith, and Dr. Petrie; and he spoke of the essential oil of a rare orchid found in Burma, which for twenty-five years he had studied in quest of what the old philosophers called the elixir of life.

And I knew, watching him, that he had thrown off the burden of many years, had cheated man’s chiefest enemy—Time.

He went on to criticize the chief, stripping him bare of all his glamour, placing his good qualities in the scale against the colossal egoism of the man. “You love a shell,” he said, “an accomplishment, a genius, if you like, but a phantom, a hollow thing, having no real existence.”

So it went on to the point where I was forced to submit to an injection of that strange new drug in which the Chinese doctor evidently took such pride.

I experienced a sudden and unfamiliar glow throughout my entire body. I became exhilarated; some added clarity of vision came to me. And presently I took my orders from Dr. Fu Manchu as a keen subaltern takes orders from his colonel.

Exulting in the knowledge that by reason of my association with the great Chinese physician, I was above the trivialities of common humanity, god-like, superior, all-embracing, I set out for Shepheard’s—intent only upon bringing Ramin within the fold of this all-powerful genius.

When we pulled up opposite the hotel, and the driver had run across with my note, I knew a fever of impatience—I could scarcely contain myself. But at last I saw him come out, my letter in his hand, saw him run down the steps.

Then, we were together, and my heart was singing with gladness. . . . I was taking him to Dr. Fu Manchu!

He could not understand; I knew that he could never understand until he had stood face to face with that great and wonderful man, as I had done.

And at first I tried to pacify him, holding her. He fought with me, and even endeavoured to attract the attention of a British policeman. But at last he lay passive, watching me. And I grew very uneasy.

I was assailed by odd doubts. We were far out on the road to Gizeh when suddenly the car pulled up. I saw Dr. Fu Manchu standing beside me.

“You have done well,” he said; “you may rest now. . . .”

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